We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans

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Harvard University Press, Apr 14, 2000 - Cooking - 278 pages
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Ghulam Bombaywala sells bagels in Houston. Demetrios dishes up pizza in Connecticut. The Wangs serve tacos in Los Angeles. How ethnicity has influenced American eating habits—and thus, the make-up and direction of the American cultural mainstream—is the story told in We Are What We Eat. It is a complex tale of ethnic mingling and borrowing, of entrepreneurship and connoisseurship, of food as a social and political symbol and weapon—and a thoroughly entertaining history of our culinary tradition of multiculturalism.

The story of successive generations of Americans experimenting with their new neighbors’ foods highlights the marketplace as an important arena for defining and expressing ethnic identities and relationships. We Are What We Eat follows the fortunes of dozens of enterprising immigrant cooks and grocers, street hawkers and restaurateurs who have cultivated and changed the tastes of native-born Americans from the seventeenth century to the present. It also tells of the mass corporate production of foods like spaghetti, bagels, corn chips, and salsa, obliterating their ethnic identities. The book draws a surprisingly peaceful picture of American ethnic relations, in which “Americanized” foods like Spaghetti-Os happily coexist with painstakingly pure ethnic dishes and creative hybrids.

Donna Gabaccia invites us to consider: If we are what we eat, who are we? Americans’ multi-ethnic eating is a constant reminder of how widespread, and mutually enjoyable, ethnic interaction has sometimes been in the United States. Amid our wrangling over immigration and tribal differences, it reveals that on a basic level, in the way we sustain life and seek pleasure, we are all multicultural.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - waterloom - LibraryThing

Gabaccia compares the food cultures of immigrant Italians, Irish, and Eastern European Jews, offering rich insights into each, as well as valuable comparisons. I have used this book numerous times in ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - mattviews - LibraryThing

I picked up this book in hope of mitigating the intensity of reading back-to-back some very tenacious literature and historical fiction. It was a miscalculation. We Are What We Eat, though interesting ... Read full review


Colonial Creoles
Immigration Isolation and Industry
Ethnic Entrepreneurs
Crossing the Boundaries of Taste
Food Fights and American Values
The Big Business of Eating
Of Cookbooks and Culinary Roots
Nouvelle Creole
Who Are We?

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Page 5 - Jewish" only as Jewish bakers began selling them to their multi-ethnic urban neighbors. When bagels emerged from ghetto stores as a Jewish novelty, bagels with cream cheese quickly became a staple of the cuisine known as "New York deli," and was marketed and mass-produced throughout the country under this new regional identity.
Page 2 - A grumpy cultural observer pauses at this point, well-armed for a diatribe on the annoying confusions of postmodern identities in the 1990s. It is easy to harrumph, as Octavio Paz once did, that "the melting pot is a social ideal that, when applied to culinary art, produces abominations...

About the author (2000)

Donna R. Gabaccia is Professor of History at the University of Toronto, Scarborough.

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